Arlington County has created an "electronic town square" in the Courthouse neighborhood, providing free high-speed wireless Internet outdoors.
"Providing wireless Internet access in our public spaces adds to the vibrancy of our tech-savvy community," said Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette.
At a cost of $14,000 in start-up costs, the free wi-fi service extends in a three-block radius around the Courthouse Plaza, near the county's government center and the Courthouse Metro station.
The wi-fi "hot spot" offers the free Internet service primarily on the street level, though a few residents may be able to access the service as well.
"As word gets out, more and more people will be using this," said Jack Belcher, Arlington's chief information officer. "They can sit outside, sip a cup of coffee and access the Internet."
The project is intended to drum up business for Courthouse merchants and to give public safety officials easy access to the Internet in an emergency.
The wi-fi emanates from omnidirectional antennae attached to street lamps, roughly 25 feet off the ground.
As Arlington's dense neighborhoods are home to many young people, Belcher said he expects the wi-fi service to prove popular.
"A lot of these residents are just out of college and are used to being connected all the time," he said.
Last year, Arlington launched a wireless hotspot at the county's Central Library at N. 1015 Quincy St. The county is exploring the possibility of public-private partnerships to expand the free Internet service to other neighborhoods and parks.
The "Wireless@Courthouse" project will serve as a trial run of publicly funded wi-fi service in Arlington, providing county officials with insight into how the program might be expanded.
Belcher said Arlington has identified 15 different sites that might receive wi-fi in the future, including Ballston, Rosslyn, Shirlington, the Columbia Pike area and Gateway Park.
"All the areas where we have people congregating, we'd like to have this service," Belcher said.
In the immediate future, plans call for wireless Internet to be added at the new Shirlington Library at 2786 South Arlington Mill Drive and the Westover Library at 1800 North Lexington St.
Free wi-fi service has started spreading throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region. Earlier this month, Alexandria turned on a wi-fi hot spot along an eight-block stretch of the city's King Street corridor. Alexandria started offering wi-fi in the waterfront area of Old Town a few months earlier. Montgomery County, Md., and the City of Fairfax are also developing plans to offer wireless Internet.
Arlington County is known as a national leader in cutting-edge technology, having been named one of the country's top 10 digital counties in a survey by the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties.